Planning focus of Mass Rescue Conference

Conference attendees
Attendees at the G4 International Maritime Mass Rescue Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden
Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry
Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, president of World Maritime University, said more must be done to emphasise the importance of maritime mass rescue operation planning

More must be done to emphasise the importance of maritime mass rescue operation planning, a keynote speaker at the G4 International Maritime Mass Rescue Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, has urged.

Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, president of World Maritime University, said that importance should also be placed on filling global gaps in search and rescue (SAR) response capability.

Addressing delegates at the conference, which took place from 11-12 June, Dr Doumbia-Henry stressed that learning from experience and the exchanging of views among SAR practitioners is essential. She added that recent experience in the Mediterranean has shown the need for mass rescue capability and preparedness, while increasing vessel traffic in Arctic waters highlights the need to improve SAR resources and the need for all levels of SAR capability in the developing world continues to outpace resources.

Wang Zhenliang, director of General China Rescue and Salvage (CRS) Bureau, Ministry of Transport, spoke about how the organisation has addressed safety, training, fleet investment and technology in China, while Alexis Liamos, director of operations at the Hellenic Rescue Team in Greece, talked about how the organisation had increased its capacity and capability to provide effective sea rescue as a response to problems previously encountered in refugee rescue operations. He said new measures taken included increasing its level of cooperation with authorities and better volunteer management.

Rescue, coordination, communication and planning were focussed on extensively during the conference and a mass rescue operation exercise was carried out around the small islets off Långedrag. The scenario, which involved two vessels colliding, began with the knowledge that evacuations has already taken place for 76 hours in bad weather, with casualties, lifeboats and liferafts reported to be spread over a wide area.

Following the exercise challenges were identified in the rescue, finding and conducting of the search. In the landing area there were difficulties in counting/interviewing and a lack of resources/focus. An on-scene coordinator (OSC) was not appointed and there were communication issues between the boats and rescue coordination centre (RCC), plus challenges in the overall coordination and situational awareness.

It was concluded that in multiple casualty situations leaving people aboard their parent unit or survival craft may be an alternative to recovering them at sea, while counting people in a mass rescue operation (MRO) is a significant problem. It was decided that support for survivors should be provided during transfer: shelter and medical & welfare support and ‘places of safety’ need to be planned to be effective.

Attendees agreed planning for MROs is essential to their success and the SAR coordinator should have overall coordinating responsibility. Stakeholders should be identified and plans coordinated with them. Ownership and active review should be encouraged, capability gaps should be identified and plans made to fill them using additional resources, regional resources and on-scene support.

Overall, information should be identified and prioritised and there should be exchange liaison officers between the major coordination centres.

By Rebecca Jeffrey

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